UPDATE: (July 21, 2014) I have now posted a preferred sunscreen recipe for you HERE. I have found that the recipe below, although providing adequate sun protection, does not reliably emulsify every time, and sometimes develops a grittiness or chunky quality over time. Apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused you.
So it’s that time of year again where we may think about starting to reach for the sunscreen when spending long periods of time outside. As many of us have now realized, most traditional sunscreen is quite toxic, and (ironically) contains many carcinogens. And if you know this, you know that the natural alternatives are NOT cheap. You are looking at twenty to thirty bucks a bottle for some of the store-bought alternatives.
Now, this wasn’t acceptable to me, so I thought, hey, why don’t I try making my own? Understandably, it is one of those ‘riskier’ DIY exploits to jump on. I felt like, man, if I screw this up, I might end up with a wicked sunburn. Yikes! And myself and my immediate family members (including my two year old), are pasty white.
BUT, after some substantial research, I decided it was worth a shot. So, last year, I whipped up a batch and tried it out. And it worked AMAZING. I was overjoyed to find that neither myself, my husband, or my son burned while wearing it. That being said, we weren’t spending all day on the beach in Florida. We are looking at a couple hours at a water park with moderate amounts of clothing on. I am one for everything in moderation, and I include my sun exposure in that category – I am just not one for baking in the sun all day.
BUT, I do know of some Moms who use very similar recipes and find it is also pretty good for heavier sun exposure. That also being said, just know that I am not PERSONALLY attesting to this.
My recipe relies on two active ingredients that are said to provide a physical barrier to harmful UV exposure. These ingredients are zinc oxide and extra virgin coconut oil. Some folks use just the coconut oil with decent success, but since my pasty skin is so vulnerable, I really felt I needed to add in the zinc oxide as well.
You do need to source the zinc oxide in an unusual location, as it is not something that is widely available in most stores. You can buy zinc oxide online HERE at New Directions Aromatics, or locally at The Soap Dispensary or another similar soap making shop. Please make sure that the zinc oxide you use is non-nano, which basically means it is not readily absorbing through your skin into your bloodstream. While it is a less toxic alternative, it is not completely benign, and should not be used internally or inhaled.
Alternatively if you just cannot source the zinc oxide powder, I have a suggestion (not as toxin free, mind you, as it includes petroleum products) using diaper cream below – wait for it :). Not my first choice, but an option!
Anyways, after that lengthy introduction, here is my recipe for sunscreen that supposedly results in around 20-25 SPF:
1 part non-nano zinc oxide powder
1 part food grade aloe vera gel
4 parts extra virgin coconut oil
OPTIONAL: Add 10 drops per half cup of sunscreen citronella essential oil to make your sunscreen double as a mosquito repellent.
IMPORTANT: Mix in a well ventilated area, with a mask on. Once mixed, the zinc oxide is fine, but it is NOT to be inhaled as it can accumulate in your lungs. Not to scare you, but just wear a mask like this one and you will not only look wicked awesome, but you will be perfectly fine 🙂
PROCESS UPDATED ON MARCH 4, 2014:
Start by melting your coconut oil in a double boiler (see my FAQ for an explanation). Add your zinc oxide, and mix well until there is not much left stuck on the bottom of your bowl. Next, transfer this mixture to a food processor (the sunscreen is REALLY hard to clean out of the processor afterwards, so if your budget allows it, I would have a separate food processor for your body products), and blend for at least five minutes.
Add your aloe vera gel (I personally like Lily of the Desert’s products) and citronella. Blend for another five minutes. The aloe vera is in there to be soothing to sun exposed skin, as well as acting as a bit of a liquefier for our mixture. It is not 100% necessary to functionality of the recipe, so if need be, you can omit it. I just find it is a nicer product with it included. The citronella acts as a natural mosquito repellent – and it smells nice, too 🙂
NOTE: It is not advisable to hand mix this recipe, as the zinc oxide tends to just separate if not mixed very vigorously with a processor. If you find that, when applied, your sunscreen contains a lot of white flecks, rather than being more uniformly white, you may need to process it longer.
*If you absolutely cannot find zinc oxide powder, you can use Penaten or some other zinc oxide based diaper rash ointment, and mix in double or triple the amount you would have used if you had the zinc oxide powder. I don’t recommend this health wise, as there are petroleum products in these creams, and the zinc is not likely to be non nano, but if you need to, it’s still better than the toxic regular sunscreen, and a LOT cheaper than the store bought naturals!
And there you have it! This sunscreen will go on a bit white-ish (especially if you use the diaper rash cream) but I find that to be the case with most store bought natural sunscreen as well. This recipe also is not waterproof. You WILL need to reapply after a swim or spending a lot of time in a water park. You just can’t make a waterproof sunscreen that is satisfyingly free of major toxins. So keep this in mind! And it IS greasy. That is just the nature of pretty much all natural, physical barrier sunscreen. I haven’t found any, storebought or not, that is not greasy to some extent.
If you find you get a burn using this sunscreen, either consider upping the amount of zinc oxide you use (just stir in some more into your current batch if you need to), or apply it more often. Another problem could be that you are applying the lotion “too thin” – you want to make sure you have a thicker layer on, as this is a BARRIER sunscreen, not a chemical based one.
I hope this recipe works for your family, and saves you some money too!